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Four Bishop Garcia Diego High School students recently founded Equipped 2 Heal, a startup organization to supply medical equipment to underprivileged communities outside of the United States.

Three 17-year-old juniors — Will Busch, Grant Sexton and Chandler Swift — and 15-year-old freshman Nick Busch, together this past fall, started raising money and requesting equipment donations from hospitals. Their efforts culminated in a spring break medical missionary trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, where they delivered medical equipment and supplies to the impoverished town of Matapalo.

Through friends in Costa Rica, Heather and Andy Allenby, the students learned of Dr. Andrea Messaguer, whose clinic in Playa Grande was vandalized and much of its equipment and supplies were stolen. It was financially impossible for Dr. Messaguer to restock her clinic. The students decided to step in to help and founded Equipped 2 Heal.

The boys discovered that in the United States “expired” but perfectly good medical equipment and supplies have to be discarded. This equipment is good for years after the expiration dates and is in desperate need in Third World countries, whose access to items such as suture kits, oxygen masks, sterile dressings and IV start kits is limited. Monetary donations were also received for the purchase of new thermometers, blood pressure machines, a pulse oximeter, a cardiac monitor and a security system for the clinic.

The students decided that while delivering the equipment to the clinic was vital, they preferred a more hands-on experience. They organized a temporary clinic to perform physicals for all of the elementary students in the schools in Matapalo and Playa Grande, Costa Rica.

“It was so rewarding to help all of the children and their parents,” Swift said. “I was very aware that we have so much and they have so little. I was extremely happy to give back.”

Once the Bishop students completed all of the vital signs and measurements on more than 200 Costa Rican students, Chandler’s father, Dr. James Swift, and Dr. Messaguer performed physicals on the children. Many of these youngsters had not been seen by a physician since birth. As word of the clinic spread in the community, more and more families showed up in hopes of seeing the doctors with their children from 3 months to 13 years old.

Chandler Swift helps his father, Dr. James Swift, with a physical exam at a temporary clinic in Costa Rica. (Equipped 2 Heal photo)

Chandler Swift helps his father, Dr. James Swift, with a physical exam at a temporary clinic in Costa Rica. (Equipped 2 Heal photo)

“I looked up at one point during an exam day and realized that mothers were bringing in all of the children in their families, including cousins,” Will Busch said. “There was a line out the door and down the hall. We didn’t expect to see so many children, but we were happy to help all of them and proud that our clinic was such a success.”

Having to speak Spanish with the youngsters, each of the Bishop students took a turn getting height, weight, blood pressure, blood oxygen saturation levels, temperatures and heart rates on each patient before sending them in to see the doctors. The doctors diagnosed a number of conditions, including asthma, infections, precocious puberty, thyroid conditions and even a few life-threatening heart conditions.

As the youngsters left the clinic, each was given a small toy, a few snacks and an Equipped 2 Heal bag full of personal care items such as hair brushes, combs, antibiotic ointment, shampoo, soap and dental care items. Children who might have initially been frightened to see the doctor left happy and relaxed. When the Bishop students realized how excited the children were over the simple gifts, they started blowing up latex gloves, drawing faces on them and handing them out as toys.

“We worked long days, but it was worth it because the children were so happy to meet us,” Sexton said. “It was great to know that we had a critical role in helping to keep the kids healthy.”

The success of this trip has led to talks with Bishop Garcia Diego High School to create more hands-on service trips for Bishop students interested in joining Equipped 2 Heal.

“Being with the families all day, I realized how important our help was to Dr. Andrea and the children of Matapalo,” Nick Busch. “Because I am a freshman, I want to get more Bishop students involved in Equipped 2 Heal so our organization can continue to help these kids.”

Noozhawk contributing writer Judy Crowell is an author, freelance travel writer and part-time Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at news@noozhawk.com.